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First-years O'Connor and Heilmann impress in No. 15 UNC wrestling win over App State

Austin O'Connor
First year Austin O'Connor (in navy) wrestles senior teammate Troy Heilmann during UNC's wrestle-offs on Friday night in Carmichael Arena.

First-years Austin O’Connor and Joe Heilmann both had major decision victories in Sunday’s matchup at Appalachian State, bringing the No. 15 North Carolina wrestling team to a 28-7 win and an undefeated 3-0 start.

What happened?

It was all eyes on No. 9 O’Connor to start Sunday’s meet after his win against a ranked opponent last week at Arizona State, earning him ACC Wrestler of the Week honors. The standout redshirt first-year started the meet for the Tar Heels in the 149-pound bout against Appalachian State’s Jonathan Millner. 

After two big periods for O’Connor, including a four-point near fall and multiple takedowns, the Tar Heel extended his 10-3 lead to a 14-3 major decision. 

No. 6 Kennedy Monday was next up for UNC, bringing the team lead to 7-0 after his 157-pound bout against Appalachian’s Angel Najar. After a scoreless first period and a 2-0 second period lead for Monday, the redshirt sophomore won the final period convincingly, securing the 5-1 win over Najar. 

The wins didn’t stop there for North Carolina. 

Redshirt sophomore Josh McClure added to the Tar Heel lead after a major decision win of 10-1 and boosted the team to a quick, 11-0, lead.

Redshirt sophomore Devin Kane went up against Appalachian’s Thomas Flitz in the 174-pound matchup. He answered a 4-1 first period lead for Flitz with a takedown and a two-point near fall from Kane, tying up the score, 5-5, entering the third period. 

It was Kane who walked away with the gritty win, using his riding time point to end the bout with a 6-5 win that pushed UNC to a 14-0 lead.

After a loss last weekend in Arizona, No. 8 Chip Ness came back with a 10-2 major decision against Appalachian’s No. 21 Alan Clothier in the 184-pound bout. It was the fifth straight win for UNC.

The Tar Heel win streak was snapped when redshirt first-year Hunter Queen fell to Appalachian’s Randall Diabe in the 197-pound matchup. Diabe dominated the bout with a 10-2 win that shortened the UNC lead to 18-4. 

After the UNC loss, the Tar Heels responded with a set of wins by No. 13 Cory Daniel and Heilmann. 

The second and final North Carolina loss was in the 133-pound bout, when James Szymanski fell to Appalachian’s No. 23 Codi Russell, shortening the UNC lead to 25-7. 

The Tar Heels ended the day 28-7 after the final match was won, 7-0, by UNC’s A.C. Headlee.

Who stood out?

O’Connor’s 14-3 victory came off last weekend’s win against a ranked opponent, Arizona State’s Josh Maruca. 

“It’s one of those moments where you come off a high beating a guy ranked higher than you and you’ve got to back it up,” head coach Coleman Scott said of the first-year.

Although O'Connor showed no hesitation in a dominating major decision this weekend, Coleman said that there were nerves behind the scenes.

“It was a little bit of a change for him going first,” Coleman said of O’Connor’s lead-off spot. “He had a little bit of anxiety, you know, right on that hour weigh-in. But he did well. He responded well.” 

Another first-year stood out to Coleman in Sunday’s 28-7 victory.

Heilmann, who’s 14-5 major decision was his first dual win as a Tar Heel showed promise.

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“He opened up the season with some really tough kids,” Coleman said. “But we knew what he had.” 

When was it decided?

North Carolina came out with five consecutive wins to control the meet early on. North Carolina ultimately won eight out of ten bouts on the day. 

“I was proud of the guys fight and effort today,” Coleman said. 

“I thought we could have opened the gap a little bit more in a few instances and matches, but I also was proud of the way we finished off some matches as well.” 

Why does it matter?

Although some of Sunday’s wins were slim, UNC showed some early spirit for a team who has yet to play at home. 

“We can’t do anything individually, and we’re gonna be subpar if we do. We need those guys, we need to find those gritty wins,” Coleman said. 

When do they play next?

UNC wrestling travels to Nevada for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational next weekend in a two day tournament beginning on Friday, Nov. 30th. 

@jillianDTH

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com